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Officials stand up for Verde Valley advisory board

The Camp Verde Journal of Camp Verde, Arizona

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College watchdog group wants to remain independent

During the Yavapai College District Governing Board regular public meeting Tuesday, Sept. 1, a number of local community leaders stepped up to the microphone to express support for post-secondary education in the Verde Valley.

So many requests to speak were registered, in fact, that Yavapai College District Governing Board Chairwoman Patricia McCarver limited the 28 speakers to two minutes. Typically, speakers in the call to the public are allowed three minutes. Audience members and speakers included the entirety of the Sedona City Council, three Yavapai-Apache Tribal Council members, four local superintendents and a number of current and former elected officials.

Prior to the call to the public, the Governing Board members entered executive session, giving former Sedona Mayor Dick Ellis an opportunity to express his concern over a proposal to incorporate the Verde Valley Board Advisory Committee — which had been created by the governing board to offer advice on the post-secondary education needs of Verde Valley residents — into another committee headed by James Perey, a Chino Valley resident who is executive dean of the Verde Valley Campus of Yavapai College.

"I'm in favor of the advisory committee remaining as it is," Ellis said, adding that in his opinion the WBAC is operating too well for the college's comfort, revealing issues that the governing board would rather not address. He predicted that combining the two committees "would be the death" of the WBAC.

This worry would become the afternoon's most prevalent theme, stated and restated again by a clear majority of the speakers.

"At your August board meeting three members of the board stated publicly that they were considering combining our committee with DeanPerey's college committee," WBAC Chairman Paul Chevalier said during his address to the board. "Doing that would be, in fact, equivalent to shutting our committee down because our committee has a different function from that of the college committee.

"If the WBAC was merged into the dean's committee, we would no longer be able to investigate, analyze and make recommendations on subjects we wish to. The dean determines how often his committee will meet, he controls what is on the agenda the dean's committee operates the way the college wants it to operate. And it is not open to the public."

Before giving the dais over to the public, Chevalier reiterated that his board had 16 points of recommendation in June, focusing on access, sustain-ability, structure and a "modified de-centralized model" of organization for Yavapai College in the Verde Valley.

Ruth Wicks and Bob Oliphant, of the Verde Valley Community College Citizen Advocates were among the first speakers. Both praised the WBAC for its efforts on behalf of the people of the Verde Valley, whom Wicks insisted are "worth investing in."

Beaver Creek School District Superintendent Karin, Ward, Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District Superintendent Barabra U'Ren and Valley Academy for Career and Technology Education Superintendent Lois Lamer each offered their support for greater educational opportunities outside the Prescott area.

According to Ward, access to educational materials and facilities in remote and rural areas remains an issue for students. Likewise, Lamer called for an increase in resources, allowing students to train for professional careers within the Verde Valley — a move the superintendent insisted would be cheaper and more sustainable in the long run.

U'Ren spoke of the need for students in local districts — many of whom qualify for English Language Development and Free and Reduced Lunch status — to have a voice in the discussion. The college, U'Ren said, is obligated to provide opportunities to these marginalized populations.

Among the Sedona City Council members offering vocal support for the WBAC were Mayor Sandy Moriarty, Councilwoman Jessica Williamson and Councilman Scott Jablow.

Moriarty said that the WBAC should not be incorporated or disbanded, adding that the formation of the committee "was actually the first time we felt we had a voice in Sedona and the Verde Valley."

Williamson said that there is still a "pressing need" for the committee's input.

Ellis reiterated the sentiment of these statements, saying that the WBAC should stand as is. "The committee has just begun to serve its purpose."

Carolyn Fisher, Barbara Duncan, Isabelle Ericson, Jackie Ellis and Kathy Sullivan offered similar recommendations to keep the WBAC whole, retaining its original mandate. Fisher and Duncan expressed admiration for the committee, saying that it has fought for equitable access and representation for the Verde Valley and outlying regions.

DeShannan Young read alerter written by her boss, Yavapai County District 3 Supervisor A.G. "Chip" Davis, which stated in part, "I believe the committee has been a great tool for the whole governing board and a great way for the representatives for District 2 and 3 to stay in touch with the citizens of the Verde Valley. I would encourage the district governing board to continue to utilize the talents of the members of the WBAC and to set up advisory committees in their own districts."

"We are your engine and vehicle in this effort," WBAC Vice Chairman and Clarkdale Town Councilman Bill Regner said. "We are the best ambassadors for the college's good efforts.... Please keep the lines of communication open."

Responding to these concerns, McCarver said that it had been difficult to listen without commenting during the call to the public. According to her, the board had voted during their August meeting not to disband or incorporate the WBAC. She assured the audience that the board was not under threat, but that the board did have an obligation to define what the committee does and does not do.

Governing Board member Albert Filardo attempted to clarify the role of the WBAC, recommending that the committee restrict itself to offering advice per its original mission statement: "To provide advice to the Yavapai College District Governing Board based on objective analysis and feedback from Verde Valley communities."

According to Filardo, the committee had veered too far from this mission, making recommendations instead of operating as a true advisory committee.

Following the call to the public, Perey offered an overview of the Verde Valley and Sedona's 2014-15 school year and looked forward to the future.

According to the dean, 2014-15 saw increased visitation from grade school and high school students to the Yavapai College Verde campus, resulting in an increased profile for the college among prospective students. The college taught approximately 1,600 credit-seeking students and 900 noncredit-seeking students, including 230 dual enrollment students from Sedona, Cottonwood and Camp Verde high schools.

Enrollment throughout the Verde Valley and Sedona is down 1.8 percent, which Perey called a "relatively good number" when measured against the statistic measuring the decline in college enrollment throughout the United States. While admitting that he would like to see an increase in the college's numbers, Perey said that servicing student needs, seeing them complete degrees and certifications, is ultimately more important than enrollment statistics.

Perey said that he is currently seeking input from prospective students in Sedona. According to the dean, the needs of the community will drive the programs offered in the Sedona Center — and thus the direction of the center's renovation, which is planned for the 2016-17 school year.

"We are the best ambassadors for the college's good efforts."

Bill Regner

Verde Valley Board Advisory Committee Vice Chairman

Copyright 2015 The Camp Verde Journal, Camp Verde, Arizona. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: September 9, 2015

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